SDJ Buzz: Spiel des Jahres 2017

It’s time for my annual look at the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres, aka the German Game of the Year!  This is the 39th time the award will be given out, and the seventh time I’ve done my predictions here on this blog.  As a recap, here’s my record:

  • 2011: Forbidden Island predicted (Qwirkle won)
  • 2012: Eselsbrücke predicted (Kingdom Builder won)
  • 2013: Hanabi predicted (Hanabi won)
  • 2014: Splendor predicted (Camel Up won)
  • 2015: Colt Express predicted (Colt Express won)
  • 2016: Imhotep predicted (Codenames won)

So I’m 2-4 going into this year.  Let’s take a look at the nominations, and I’ll give my pick at the end of the post.

image by BGG user N3MO77

Kingdomino is a game by Bruno Cathala that was published last year by Blue Orange Games.  It’s a 2-4 player game for ages 8 and up that takes 15-20 minutes to play.  You might be able to tell what you’re doing from the title, but just in case you can’t – you’re building kingdoms out of dominoes.

Each round, a number of dominoes will be drawn equal to the number of players (or twice the number in a two-player game).  The dominoes have numbers on their back, and they are arranged face up in ascending order.  Each player will claim a domino using their king tokens (you claim two in a two-player game), then a new set of dominoes is drawn and arranged.  Whoever took the domino with the smallest value in the previous set gets first choice from the new one.  This continues until all dominoes have been drawn.  Players count up their scores based on contiguous areas with crowns in them, and the high score wins.

Bruno Cathala has never won the Spiel des Jahres before, which is a surprise.  He did get a special award in 2006 (with co-designer Serge Laget) for Shadows over Camelot, but has never won the main prize.  This one could do it for him – it’s a nice simple game with a unique drafting system and plenty of strategy in the tile placement.  It looks like a good one.

image by BGG user ddlhz

Magic Maze is a game by Kasper Lapp that was published in a multilingual edition by Sit Down! and specifically in German by Pegasus Spiele.  In this 1-8 player game, which is a real-time cooperative experience that takes up to 15 minutes to play, you are controlling fantasy heroes who have lost all of their equipment and must now go rob a local mall for more.

No single player controls on hero, but rather, each of the 1-8 players has a certain move they can do – left, right, up, down, take the stairs, teleport, or explore.  On the word go, players begin moving characters around the board.  There are no turns, each player just does their move when they see an opportunity.  The trick here is that you cannot communicate in anyway – the only things you can do are to stare at someone or give them the “DO SOMETHING!” pawn.  When characters all get to their target spot, they can head for the exits.  You have to do this before the timer runs out (there are a couple of opportunities to give yourselves more time).  The game comes with a number of scenarios you can tackle.

This game is probably the one I am most interested in from the list.  I like real-time games to begin with, and this one seems quite novel.  It might end up being too crazy for the SdJ, but I’m very glad that it got a nomination.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Wettlauf nach El Dorado (aka Race to El Dorado) is a game designed by Reiner Knizia and published by Ravensburger.  This 2-4 payer, 30-60 minute deckbuilding game is a race through the jungle to the legendary city of gold.

The map is set up with a number of tiles, either from a preset layout or however you want to set them up.  On your turn, you’ll have a hand of four cards.  These will be played either to help you move or to buy new cards for your deck.  To move, you’ll have to be able to pay enough symbols to cross the jungle (machete), water (oar), or villages (gold) from the cards in your hand.  There are also spaces where you can discard cards or trash them from your deck.  The game continues until someone has reached El Dorado.  After everyone has had the same number of turns, the player who has reached El Dorado with the most barriers in their possession is the winner.

I’ve never been crazy about Knizia games, but this one seems kind of fun.  It seems like it still has a kind of mechanical detachment from the theme, as many of his games do, but it’s a different sort of game, and that’s cool.  It’s a pure race game, and there are different paths to get to the final goal.  It seems like it would serve as a good introduction to deck builders for families.  After not hearing much from Dr. Knizia over the last few years (other than through rehashes of previous games), it’s good to see him still working and getting recognition.

This is a tougher choice than I thought it was going to be.  Magic Maze is the one on this list that piques my interest the most, but it’s also the one that I think has the least chance to win – just too quirky.  I think Kingdomino and El Dorado both have a real shot, but in the end, I’m going with my gut and picking KINGDOMINO to win the 2017 Spiel des Jahres.  It could really go either way, but I think Kingdomino is unique and quick enough that it will pick up the first win for Bruno Cathala.

By the way, the Kinderspiel des Jahres was announced yesterday, and Ice Cool won.  That was my prediction!  That means I’m 1-0 on the year so far, so let’s keep it rolling.  I’ll be back Friday with my Kennerspiel prediction.  Thanks for reading!






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